While driving from Waterford to Dungarvan last weekend I was struck by the many magnificent colours that are all around at present, reminding me that once again we are on that cusp of change. No matter what the economy does or how good or bad the news is, nature is fairly consistent. At one point in my journey, on a forest road, I actually stopped the car and just enjoyed it for a few short minutes; a breathtaking colour palette of reds, browns and dark greens. Without an ounce of help from us, left to their own devices the trees do their thing, largely unnoticed and unappreciated year after year and many of us miss it.
They are not so dismissive of the changing seasons in Japan and this time of year is known as Momijigari, the time when people go to the fields and mountains to enjoy the changing colours of the autumn leaves. I can’t pronounce the name but even the idea of it in our western culture seems strange. Just try and announce to the kids this weekend that the whole family is getting into the car and heading up the mountain to ‘enjoy the changing colours of the autumn leaves’. Imagine getting there and finding hundreds of other families doing the same thing! Even if they did agree to go on such an adventure I can almost guarantee they would be accompanied by a mobile phone or other hand-held device for the trip. In fact you don’t even have to leave the city for such pleasure as a trip to the People’s Park will also allow you to take it in.
We have become very soft in this new millennium. Our leisure time seems to be dictated purely by temperature. If we do venture out of our centrally heated homes many prefer the warmer exploration of fluorescently lit DIY or department stores as relaxing recreation rather than the cooler adventure of a trip into nature. A walk in the park or the countryside is considered ‘boring’. It is as boring or as exciting as you make it and the joys and delights are entirely free. To bring home a bag of goodies from a shopping centre puts a strain on the purse while picking up flowers, interesting twigs, horse chestnuts, funny coloured stones and russet shaped leaves costs nothing.
As materialistic adults we may not put the same value on a funny coloured stone as we would on a designer item of clothing, but children are different. We assume they can only be happy with the latest computer game or expensive toy, when all the time we are the ones imposing such preferences and entertainment rules on them.
Children, particularly those under seven, have an unspoiled nature that allows them to adapt easily to practically any environment. Just think of the pleasure a child derives from a puddle. Of course we quickly discourage such behaviour as they will get wet, or spoil their clothes. We buy raincoats for children only to keep them dry if we absolutely must go out in the rain. How many parents dress their kids in raincoats and wellies and tell them to go play outside in the puddles? There are a few, but not very many. We worry too much about them getting a cold, or getting sick.
How silly! No germs could permeate that PVC slicker. It would actually do us all some good if we went outside for a splash with them. There is something magnificently innocent and joyful about splashing around in rain puddles or throwing pebbles into them and watching the ripple reaction, or filling plastic containers with rainwater.
It happened to me recently while I was looking after a little boy. He was magnetically drawn to a large puddle as we got out of the car and my first instinct was to shout “No, you’ll get wet.” I caught myself just in time though and instead had a little splash with him. Yes, our shoes got a bit wet and the hem of my trousers was a little stained but it was worth it. When we went indoors I changed his socks and dried his shoes, his mother never knew and he didn’t die of pneumonia.
Now if you’re thinking that I’m some environmentalist who owns mountain boots, only wears natural fibres and enjoys nothing more than a cheek pink-en-ing hike through nature then you’re very wrong. I too love my manmade comforts, take great pleasure in a spot of retail therapy and have been known to complain about the cold. In fact on a winter’s Sunday you would probably find me snuggled indoors with lots of reading material rather than out stomping through a forest. However, there is a balance to be struck. There is nothing wrong with staying at home or taking the family to a shopping centre or retail park at the weekend but if that’s what you do every weekend then it’s out of balance.
If you actually consider the word ‘recreation’ it suggests a time for us to re-create. It is often interchanged with the word leisure or leisure time but they are entirely different. Leisure can definitely be linked with entertaining yourself but to re-create suggests something much more therapeutic; a refreshing of the mind and body. I never feel re-created after a bout of busy shopping. I might have bought myself something that I like but the actual energy expended to get it can be quite stressful. There are the car parks to consider, the queues, the elbows, the ‘out of your size’ problem and often even the amount of choice is exhausting. Indeed it would be more appropriate these days when going shopping to say you were off for ‘a spot of depletion’ rather than ‘a spot of recreation’.
There are few better ways to re-create than to connect, even for a short time, to something natural. You don’t even have to think of it that deeply. We are natural beings and so it makes perfect sense that we should feel very much at home and relaxed in a natural environment. I have always been suspicious of those that tell me they ‘hate being outdoors’. I have come to realise that they are just wearing the wrong clothes. It is ridiculous to think that an autumn stroll in the wood or a walk in the park is enjoyable in a pair of heels and bare legs and you can’t appreciate a changing leaf colour while you are worried about your designer strides getting messed up. Here’s the trick, be warm and comfortable even if you do risk a ticket from the fashion police.
There is much to enjoy out there right now but it won’t last forever. In a week or two most of the leaves will have been blown away and while winter will bring its own delights, autumn is visually stunning.
Don’t miss it, the economic downturn and the bad news will still be there when you get back but feeling re-created you’ll handle it much better. The kids might just surprise you with how much they enjoy it too.